Three years have passed since the 709 Crackdown, but the Chinese authorities’ repression of human rights lawyers in China continues. The 709 Crackdown not only marked the beginning of a downturn of China’s political environment, but also has far-reaching negative implications for China’s judicial reform, signaling a serious deterioration of the human rights climate and outright regression of freedom across the board since Xi Jinping came to power.
On July 9, 2015, Chinese authorities secretly detained rights defense lawyer Wang Yu and her family members, marking the start of a massive crackdown on human rights lawyers. On the following day, Zhou Shifeng, director of the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm, his assistant, and two other staff members were detained as well. The crackdown soon spread across twenty-three provinces and cities, affecting nearly three hundred rights lawyers and defenders. Zhou Shifeng, Hu Shigen, Wu Gan, among others, were subsequently convicted of “subversion of state power” and received prison sentences between seven and eight years.
During the past three years, the Chinese authorities have not ceased their persecution of the 709 human rights lawyers and their family members, whether imprisoned or freed after serving their sentences. According to reports, Jiang Tianyong, still in prison, suffers from severe memory loss, as his family suspects that prison authorities have been forced feeding him medications. In addition, Wang Quanzhang’s whereabouts still remain unknown after more than 1000 days since his disappearance. The authorities continue to deny visit requests made by his family and more than 20 legal representatives. At the same time, the authorities have stripped lawyers engaged in human rights practice of their ability to practice law through revocation of their licenses, administrative sanctions, forced closure of law firms, and other measures.
Yet, the 709 human rights lawyers and their family members have never stopped resisting the repression. In April 2018, family members of several lawyers, including Li Wenzu and Wang Qiaoling, started a march to find Wang Quanzhang, Li Wenzu’s husband. On the eve of the third anniversary of 709 Crackdown, Li and many 709 lawyers’ family members began another march to visit the lawyers in prison and deposit funds for them to use in prison. Lawyers Li Heping and Yang Jinzhu remain defiant: they continue to say “no” to the authorities by refusing to appear at their own hearings. Last year, overseas human rights groups launched the “China Human Rights Lawyers’ Day” on July 9 to show their support for China’s human rights lawyers.
On the third anniversary of the 709 Crackdown, Human Rights in China urges the international community to closely monitor the human rights situation in China and to condemn the Chinese authorities’ ongoing violations of international human rights standards and domestic law. These violations are no longer just a domestic problem, especially as China continues to export its concept of “human rights with Chinese characteristics” and undermine international human rights principles and norms. With so much at stake, the international community must act together and say “NO” to China.
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